Opinion » Antidote

The Porcelain Cup Workout


I'm a guy, 34 years old, 5-feet 10-inches and weigh 205 pounds and have been trying to lose 40 pounds since August. I have only managed to lose 5 pounds even though I eat pretty good and workout some. A girl I work with said she saw Oprah say that drinking green tea will automatically make you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism. I only need an extra boost to curb my appetite. Is this true?

—Clay B.

I receive questions quoting a co-worker's health advice so often that I'm beginning to think a conspiracy is underfoot. It would be all too easy for some malevolent foreign nation to place agents in offices around this country to disseminate crazy health information and weird diet suggestions. Obviously, their evil plan would be to destroy our economy by picking off our workers, one by one. I recently tried to alert Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, to my suspicions, but it seems he retired last year. Apparently, the new chairman, Ben Bernanke, must have told him he heard on Geraldo that the air in the United States Treasury would give him an itchy rash.

Realistically, Clay, if green tea were truly a cure for obesity, we'd surely know it by now. The bushy shrub used to make all true tea, Camellia sinensis, has been steeped in places all across Asia and the Middle East for millennia. Though it's true that, for nearly as long, herbalists have been prescribing green tea for stomach, skin and heart ailments, its use for weight control has never been customary. Were it really a diet miracle, the now common addition of green tea to cakes, candy and ice cream would see all Weight Watchers meetings quickly moved into P.F. Chang's.

Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage across the globe. And, because all teas come from a single plant (herbal teas are technically infusions), it is the processing of the leaves—or lack thereof—that creates the wide variety of resulting brews. White teas are Camellia leaves, simply picked and dried, resulting in a very mild beverage. Leaves for green tea are generally steamed, pan fried or roasted, while those for black tea go through a full fermentation before they are dried. Within these general categories, additional modifications affect the final taste, such as growing the shrub in shade, mixing the leaves with roasted brown rice, or any number of other, subtler techniques.

Green tea's weight loss reputation did begin with some encouraging research, but has ultimately been countered with opposing findings. The often-cited metabolism-quickening benefit is generally attributed to caffeine, though green tea supplies only a quarter of that found in coffee. Some studies show green tea slows the breakdown of starches resulting in a steadier release of glucose into the blood. But this only means that it may be useful for diabetics (who benefit from stable blood sugar). In dieters, however, this finding is about as helpful as discount marshmallow Peeps.

This is not to say that green tea has no medical benefit. On the contrary, a recent issue of the Journal of American College of Surgeons suggested that daily consumption of this tea might explain the "Asian Paradox"—that despite high rates of cigarette smoking, Asians show low rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Most theories point to antioxidants as the responsible party, as green tea contains high levels of certain compounds called polyphenols (black tea contains fewer due to its fermentation). Antioxidants stabilize the electron-stealing molecules called free radicals that damage cells and genetic material, though the evidence of this effect remains controversial.

In both 2005 and 2006, the United States Food and Drug Administration looked at all current research while evaluating the effect of green tea on cancer and heart disease. In both cases, the FDA concluded there was not sufficient evidence to make actual health claims for the brew. Published too late to be included for review, a huge Japanese study that followed more than 40,000 people over 11 years, recorded a significant decrease in mortality (total deaths from all causes) in people who drank about five cups of green tea per day.

So, while you shouldn't expect green tea to help you lose weight, I certainly won't discourage you from drinking it. The long-term health benefits just may defy the plot of your devious co-worker. On that subject, you might let drop you saw Dr. Phil say foreign agents can be identified by their radioactive tooth fillings. If you catch her checking her gums in a hand mirror, call the State Department.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send those tiny little tea leaves and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).